In business it is easy to develop habits [good or bad]. We have to in order to survive. We constantly have new challenges to work on, and why work on areas that are under control? The problem becomes evident when areas that should be covered become exposed. Let me share with you a scenario we see weekly.
The other day we were called into a company that was considering changing how they get IT service and support. They have 2 servers and about 20 users. They have a manufacturing based ERP which runs on one of the servers that keeps track of orders, inventory, production, clients and prospects and then one server is the standard file server with user accounts, security, file and print.
They have about a dozen people in the office, a few carts with computers on them to track work on the shop floor and six or seven sales reps who work remotely.
A little story:
When they were just starting out they had 3-4 users and the owner did most of the IT work himself. As they grew, the owner realized that they could not do it all so they found an “IT Guy”. The arrangement was basically, we’ll call you when we are in pain and then you need to come in and bail us out. The hourly cost of the tech support was not cheap, so they did as much as they could before they would call him in.
As the company grew, so did the complexity of the network and the amount of time needed steadily increased. The “IT Guy” was turned to for server, security, and computer advice. At first he would put together the systems for them but over time, the owner decided that he wanted branded computers vs. local created clone boxes.
Over time the business matured and parts of the operation started to improve to become more efficient. Billing and collections practices, operational procedures, sales processes were all evaluated and changed to meet the increasing business requirements. But technology pretty much stayed the same. They would try to purchase the cheapest components to get by and then wait till a failure occurs, call and wait for the tech support and then patch the problem.
At some point the owner realized that recovery, while important, should not be the key target. If getting the order right was far cheaper than fixing a mistake sent to the client or having a safe manufacturing process was better than dealing with injuries and workers comp – why wouldn’t avoiding computer interruptions be better than constant recovery? They started to consider that their technology was not keeping up.
They put up with the status quo for another year, because they did not know a better way to address the needs. Yes they could have found another “IT Guy”, but they were not confident about what the right questions to ask were and they were caught up in enough other urgent and important things. Technology was left in just fix what is broken mode.
So what forced the change? What caused the company to admit that their current IT approach was not keeping up with their business? There were two areas that rose above the rest: 1- there was a strong feeling that systems were having more problems than should be normal and 2- the owner wanted to be able to use an iPad for sales presentations.
For the first problem, it seemed to them that it was just problem after problem. The office manager commented that they must be on some ancient burial ground and have offended some deity, because things were always not working. They felt like they were calling and waiting for support several times a week. They were afraid to bring in new equipment, because their lack of confidence worried it would just break like the others. They decided it was safest to keep the funds to pay for repairs that they were already aware of. It was a bad and all too common cycle to be in.
The second was a desire to use technology to interact with their prospective clients. Instead of using printed presentations, the owner wanted to share presentations on an iPad. The iPad was purchased, brought in, and hooked up to the PC. The owner was given an application that would display a presentation, and the technician left. A few hours later when the time permitted, the owner tried to open the presentations on the iPad and realized that he was not shown how to transfer files from the PC to the IPad, and to add insult, his email and calendar were not set up.
After speaking with the technician he was told that he did not ask for that and that the technician could reschedule to come out a few days later and work on that. The owner he felt that if the technician should have known the basics needed to be done and at a minimum confirmed. Yes it was “technically” setup so he could do presentation, but he was not taught how to move his presentations to the iPad so he could use it and secondly, how could you not setup email and such. Isn’t that obvious?
The difference between reactive vs. proactive:
It was finally clear to leadership, the support may understand how to do technical tasks, but they did not understand how technology was enabling the business and what the real business objectives are. Constantly paying for fixes without overall progress was not acceptable. They were no longer willing to stick with the devil they knew, it was time to explore different options for IT Support. They did some research and found us and requested a meeting.
We sat down and listened to their concerns, business needs and business plans. To be able to understand what would be required to align their technology with their business, we performed a technical assessment to see what condition their systems were in. We reviewed the security, access, performance, errors, standards, backup, business continuity and ages of the network and systems and then sat down to talk about what was discovered.
What we found:
Since the support model was ‘call-when-it-breaks’, the server, security and backup were a bit neglected.
The server had several warning signs of failures which explained why workstations would intermittently disconnect from the server [they had called in support multiple times about the problem, but they had always focused on the PCs that were disconnecting, not the server]. Several past employees still had full access including remote access rights the firewall. The firewall was also no longer current with security profiles increasing risk for the company. The backup jobs had not run to completion for a couple months even though they were still taking the hard drives off site [like the technician had told them to].
So now the company is at a crossroad, keep the support approach they have had for the past 10 plus years or shift gears from a random ‘wail-til-it-breaks’ support approach to a constant managed proactive engagement to reduce problems and business interruptions.
Nobody likes change because it is generally painful. But you have to ask yourself, if you have done something the same way in business for greater than a decade – does it not make sense to evaluate it? Can you expect to get a different result if you keep doing the same thing?
As a business matures, things need to change to support that evolution. Old patterns that worked at one stage become obsolete and limiting factors moving forward. We all have aspects of our companies that are holding us back. We may see them clearly or they may be hidden. Putting a schedule in place to review how and why each business area is being addressed is critical.
Each of us has areas in our business that are limiting our progress. It is not the market but our limitations. Technology is a great enabler and disabler. It needs to be evaluated not just the systems and software being used, but our approach. How we engage, leverage, measure and fund.
The best time to deal with a problem is before you are forced to and before the business experiences a negative impact.
Until next time – we wish you well.